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A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo

A Rumor of War (1977)

by Philip Caputo

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Along with Herr's Dispatches, this has got to be the best book about Vietnam ever written. ( )
  LJMax | Aug 21, 2015 |
A RUMOR OF WAR, by Philip Caputo.

This is a RE-read for me. I first read Caputo's Vietnam war memoir more than 35 years ago, in a mass market paperback edition, when it was still a pretty new book. Then it was just a very popular and bestselling book. This time I read it in a 1996 Holt Paperback edition, with a front cover caption calling it "The Classic Vietnam Memoir." And it has certainly earned this title, still in print, still much-read. One of the lines I remembered was a comment from a seasoned Korean War veteran, who told the young Lieutenant Caputo - "Before you leave here, sir, you're going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy." And in the madness and heat of combat, young Caputo learned this to be too true. Indeed, he even discovered some of that brutality in himself.

One especially affecting section of the narrative depicts the time that Caputo spent as "Officer in Charge of the Dead," and the fevered, too-real nightmares that went with that job. Another is the unsettling, inebriated feeling he experiences during R&R in Saigon, a feeling that he suddenly realizes is no more than freedom from fear. Similarly, near the end of his tour, he feels it again when he becomes, at least temporarily, indifferent to death.

"It was not a feeling of invincibility; indifference, rather. I had ceased to fear death because I had ceased to care about it. Certainly I had no illusions that my death, if it came, would be a sacrifice. It would merely be a death, and not a good one either ... There were no good deaths in the war."

The real insanity of the war is perhaps best illustrated in Caputo's being brought up on murder charges for a patrol and 'snatch' of suspected VC's he helped to plan. By that time he was not simply indifferent, he was angry, and he could no longer stomach the war.

The flat numbness that was felt by so many veterans of the Vietnam war is well summed up with the final lines of Caputo's story as he takes off on a flight out of Vietnam, bound for home -

"None of us was a hero. We would not return to cheering crowds, parades, and the pealing of great cathedral bells. We had done nothing more than endure. We had survived, and that was our only victory."

Philip Caputo is a fine writer, and yes, this is "The classic Vietnam memoir." Very highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jun 14, 2015 |
Tremendous book. Every politician - president or legislator - who votes for sending our young men into war should read this book and then think long and hard about the consequences and suffering that comes from their actions. Rumor of War describes the human experience of the violence in a way that I've never seen before. I will encourage my grandson to read this in a few years so that he understands that real war is not the video war games he likes to play. ( )
1 vote cmaese | Sep 23, 2013 |
Early Caputo, a mid-1970's memoir of his time as a marine in the early part of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. I wasn't aware of Caputo's legal difficulties and was riveted. Read it with Swofford's Jarhead and Kidder's My Detachment. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
Recently I read A Rumor of War, the memoir of Phil Caputo of his time as a young Marine officer in Vietnam. Caputo had joined the Marines as an officer candidate while still a college student, primarily out of desire to break out of his suburban middle-class background and to experience adventure in his life. He spent roughly one and one-half years he spent in Vietnam and learned that the dreams of glory fueled by his imagination and the cultural portrayals of American military success, like those found in any war movie of the 40’s and 50’s, came at a cost he could never have imagined, and that in fact there was little glory and much sorrow to be found in the act of war.

Caputo divides his story into three parts. The first part tells of his early Marine training and then the arrival of his unit in Vietnam, in April, 1965, at the very beginning of the build-up of American forces. He, and the country at-large, felt confident, that the US military presence would be a decisive one. This sense of optimism, and the idealism that underlay it, was confronted by a harsh reality. One result of that reality was that the initial 5,000 troops of April, 1965 increased to 200,000 by year’s end. Caputo was part of an infantry company and he describes their day-to-day struggles with the climate, the Vietnamese they were fighting against, and the bureaucracy in graphic vignettes.

In the second phase of his Vietnam experience Caputo was reassigned and given a primarily administrative role, one that he defines as “the officer in charge of the dead.” He had the responsibility of keeping the official records of dead and wounded soldiers for each side, which included a ratio of American to Vietnamese casualties as a measure of the war’s “progress.” Another part of this job included completing the paperwork, and learning the details, for each American fatality. His previous experience as a field officer gave him a graphic understanding of the real meaning of the euphemisms that were used as descriptive terms for the reports. It is a task that placed an increasingly heavy load on his psyche.

In the last phase Caputo was transferred back to a combat unit and was again immersed into an environment where the physical and emotional toil never seemed to end. It’s only variation was found in whom, and by what means, another person on either side would become dead or wounded. And it is at this point in the story where he has his perhaps, and this is in my view as the reader, defining episode of his Vietnam experience, the time where in his words he “breaks” and finds himself crossing a psychological line that he would have never thought possible of a person of his background before coming to Vietnam. As this happens he realizes that such a possible inner change, and its consequent external results, could happen to virtually anyone.

Caputo’s memoir was written 10 years after his service in Vietnam, and I remember first hearing of it around the time it was published and then turned into a mini-series, about 30 years ago and roughly the same time as I was ending my own four years of military service, all of which was in the immediate post-Vietnam era of 1976-80. My service was in the Navy and I had little contact with people who had served on the ground in Vietnam, so I don’t personally know anyone who had a first-hand experience in a combat setting. But while I was in the Navy I did have the opportunity to travel widely, including to several places that have had significant exposure in world news in the intervening years as places of strife and conflict.

While Caputo tells a story that is based on events that happened 45 years ago much of what he experiences internally is relevant today, i.e. that “ordinary” people under profound physical and emotional stress can find themselves capable of thoughts and behavior they would consider impossible in the “ordinary” circumstances of their lives. Sadly, we hear of examples of such things all too often. They happen in distant lands and they happen in our own towns, sometimes even our own homes.

Something that I, as a Christian, find absent from Caputo’s memoir is any kind of reference to God, or even a higher moral truth in the most generic sense. I have heard the phrase “There are no atheists in foxholes” but in his extensive reflection on his Vietnam experience, which includes many occasions in foxholes, as well as other things that surely must have been as intense and terrifying, both god and God appear to be absent.

While I hope that in profound adversity, such as what Caputo describes in Vietnam or that can be found in a myriad of difficult situations that a person could encounter, I would place my trust in God, the fact is that even the strongest and deepest Christian faith is still imperfect. I don’t really know if or where I would break under the stress. I do know that God has made a claim on me, a claim that is sealed in his promise and that cannot be broken, and that he will always be present, whether I can discern it at the moment or not. And that same promise belongs to all who call in faith on the name of Jesus.

Last night at my Bible study we happened to be singing the hymn This Is My Father’s World, which has lots of imagery of God’s world as a beautiful and peaceful place. And we often experience God’s world in that way. But the song also says this in its third verse:

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

The promise, not of the hymn but of God in the words of the Bible, is that whatever happens to us, be it good or bad, happens within a world that is always in God’s control, and I praise God that the last word will not be mine, but his.
  BradKautz | Nov 7, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080504695X, Paperback)

The classic Vietnam memoir, as relevant today as it was almost thirty years ago.

In March of 1965, Marine Lieutenent Philip J. Caputo landed at Da Nang with the first ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. Sixteen months later, having served on the line in one of modern history's ugliest wars, he returned home--physically whole but emotionally wasted, his youthful idealism forever gone.
A Rumor of War is more than one soldier's story. Upon its publication in 1977, it shattered America's indifference to the fate of the men sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. In the years since then, it has become not only a basic text on the Vietnam War but also a renowned classic in the literature of wars throughout history and, as Caputo explains, of "the things men do in war and the things war does to men."

"A singular and marvelous work." --The New York Times

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:19 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This is a story about war, about the things men do in war and the things war does to them. It is a book that shatters America's deliberate indifference to the fate of the men it sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. In the years since it was first published it has become a basic text on that war.… (more)

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